I respect Roger Ebert and his reviews. His pure love of cinema is something that really shows in his writing. Also, he can easily straddle the line between popular commentary and deeper analysis when it comes to viewing the latest feature. Yet, as with any reviewer, there are times when I disagree with him. Then there are times when I really disagree with him as on an occasion when I looked through his archived "zero star" reviews and came upon the following title.
The film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is based on a play of the same name by Tom Stoppard, who also co-wrote Shakespeare in Love. This story also involves Shakespeare, namely the two characters of the title (played by Tim Roth and Gary Oldman) who happen to play a minor role in Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Like two characters being written on the page for the first time, we see them emerge out of nothing with no memory of their past and only a vague inkling of their purpose. They're not even sure which one of them is Rosencrantz and which is Guildenstern. They are quickly met by a band of traveling actors who is lead by a man known simply as the Player (Richard Dreyfuss). Unlike our two main characters, the Player knows exactly who they all are and what is going on. He expedites our two characters into the play and acts as a mysterious guide to them as they try to find their way.
The play is a very existential work that plays with the character's reality. They soon realize something is amiss when they flip a coin 157 times and it comes down heads every time. When they arrive at the castle, they are drawn into scenes with the other characters. When they are not needed in a scene, they watch the action from afar and comment to each other about it. Then there are occasions when they leave the action entirely in order to spend some time analyzing their situation. With all respect to Samuel Beckett, It could have been called Waiting for Hamlet.